Escondido budget balanced; golf course becoming costly

ESCONDIDO — The health of the city’s budget is doing well.

Finance Director Sheryl Bennett detailed a number of successes including a $25,767 surplus for fiscal year 2014-15 to the City Council at its meeting last week.

Assistant Finance Director Joan Ryan added the city did not dip into its reserve accounts, although it did shuffle funds from other accounts to offset other losses.

Nevertheless, the city budget is nearly back to the point before the 2008 recession, Ryan said.

She said the FY 2015 budget was $80.3 million compared to an $83.2 million total prior to the recession. Ryan attributed the rebound to increases in sales and property taxes. In FY 2009-10, Ryan said the budget was about $68 million.

Yet another reason the budget is in good shape, she explained, is the City Council’s efforts to estimate conservatively.

“For the most part, our revenue has come back,” Ryan added.

One source of additional revenue comes from the 4 percent increase in the wastewater fund, which saw an additional $200,000, or 2 percent. On the flip side, however, the water fund was down $500,000 (6 percent) due to conservation efforts.

Expenditures, though, were down $2.3 million adding to the city’s ability to hit a small surplus.

“We always shoot for a balanced budget,” Ryan said. “We have a lot of good policies in place so the city has revenue that meets its expenditures.”

Mayor Sam Abed said at last week’s meeting the economy is “bad despite what you hear,” although the city maintains its responsibilities for basic services.

Reinforcing Abed’s sentiments was councilman Ed Gallo, who cited a recent report detailing San Diego as the worst area in the country to create wealth.

Nevertheless, the city’s budget has strengthened, however there are still concerns.

With the good, though, comes the bad and one of those concerns centers on Reidy Creek Golf Course, which is owned by the city and operated by JC Resorts.

Bennett and her team reported the course lost $131,000 in FY 2015 and required a transfer of funds to balance the course’s budget.

The budgetary problems at the course are nothing new. Bennett’s report detailed the course has lost money the past four years (nearly $240,000) and in five of the past eight years. The losses come to about $332,000 with the surpluses reaching just $25,000 for a negative total of about $307,000.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz said it might be time for the council to explore other options for the course including a sale. She emphasized the city cannot continue to cover the yearly losses.

According deputy mayor Michael Morasco, the course has upped the number of rounds since the fiscal year ended in June.

However, the popularity in golf is in decline throughout the country, while in North County golfers have numerous cheaper options.

A resident, though, presented an idea to the council as a way to slice operating costs, while still owning the club. He said the city could turn the club into an executive 9-hole course and use the remaining nine holes, which is separated by a bridge, as open space or a park.

In addition, he suggested adding night golf with glow-in-the-dark balls and reaching out to the youth.

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